MACHIAS, Maine — About 18 people, including four company representatives, attended an informational meeting Wednesday on Maine Wild Blueberry Co.’s plans to spread wastewater, the byproduct from cleaning the processed berries, on part of 62 acres at the end of the Machias Industrial Park.
Many questions centered on an assessment of what chemicals and properties the water contains, as well as how any residual odor would affect neighboring properties.
Dan Balfour, environmental manager of Maine Wild Blueberry, a division of Cherryfield Foods, which is owned by Oxford of Canada, outlined the project and answered questions.
Balfour said the process of spraying the wastewater is 100 percent regulated by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
“Then why can’t it be pumped into the river?” asked one person.
Maine Wild Blueberry general manager Ragnor Kamp answered, “That is how it is handled on the Bay of Fundy.”
“My concern is that it doesn’t make sense to have this in the middle of town,” said Bernard Cheney, who was representing a neighboring landowner. “There is a nursing home up there. There is land for sale nearby. There is an industrial park and a stream. The University [of Maine at Machias] is there.”
Cheney said he was concerned because the wastewater is so extensively regulated by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Balfour, Kamp and plant manager Shawn Lovley attempted to allay the residents’ fears.
They said anything added to land — manure, fertilizer, waste, processed waters — is regulated by the DEP.
Because the company’s plan is only to irrigate, not to create a holding pond, odors should be minimal.
Balfour said the company owns a 62-acre parcel of wooded land behind the existing industrial park. Maine Wild Blueberry expects to use 10 to 12 acres for the water disposal.
He said all major blueberry producers have similar irrigation sites but only the Machias site will not use a holding pond.
The company now trucks its wastewater to the Jonesport area for disposal, which is costly.
Company spokesmen said more than 60 test pits already have been dug and, when requested by the Board of Pesticides Control, the water will be sampled and analyzed.
Under persistent questioning from environmental advocate Nancy Oden of Jonesboro, Balfour said the water would be tested only when the board requires it.
Kamp said the waste is only water with a little sugar content.
Oden, however, maintained that pesticides used by the growers, oils and other contaminants from the processing plant’s machinery, and other solvents will be in the water.
She suggested that once the company’s DEP application is filed next week, residents request a legal public hearing, which would require all company spokesmen to be under oath.
“Then we’d hear the truth,” she said.
Meanwhile, the company is proceeding with the application and seeking permission from the town of Machias to install a piping system along the town’s right of way beside the road. This would allow direct pumping from the concrete bunkers at the plant up to the irrigation site.
Balfour told the residents that spraying would take place from April 15 to Nov. 15 and the water sprayed could range from zero gallons to 70,000 gallons a day, depending on production.
“Water runs downhill,” Oden said.
“Not anymore,” said Cheney. “It runs where the DEP wants it to.”